Monday, December 04, 2006

The Victorian Restaurant

A gentleman relaxes after a bloody good blow-out at The Victorian Restaurant...

Actually this couldn't be further from the truth.

The Victorian Restaurant perches on top of the Prince Albert Pub in Bexleyheath. It is not a Victorian restaurant at all. One look at the website and you can see it is a French restaurant…

· Experience the delights of our extensive french cuisine menu.
· Enjoy first class service in a sumptus (sic) setting.
· Sample fine wines from our large selection to a background of classical music.

As you climb the stairs from the sumptus (sic) antique brass and copper decorated Prince Albert bar, pint in hand, you’d better hold your breath to prepare yourself for something special. It’s been recommended by my stepfather’s son and my sister’s partner’s friend so you can imagine my anticipation is high. It’s two o’clock and it’s time for lunch.

We’re doing this for my mother’s birthday. We usually go to the Harvester – all the salad you can eat for free so you don’t have to order that much for the rest of your meal.

But today it’s a proper 3-course meal in a posh-for-Bexleyheath setting. The waiters and waitresses are very attentive and the menu is reassuringly expensive.

I don’t know whether it’s in my genes (my dad was a tightwad who would never eat out, never in fact have so much as a cup of tea in a cafĂ©) but I have a limit on how much I spend on a meal. £15 each for food, which I think is plenty. So when I go somewhere expensive I end up going for the cheapest thing on the menu.

I know we’re not talking “expensive” expensive here, not talking Sunday supplement restaurant review sort of figures. We’re talking £6.50 for a starter, £15.95 for a main course, £3.25 for vegetables, £4.50 for dessert.

No, I will not pay thirty quid a head. I will have the set menu, thank you very much. However much it upsets my delicate constitution.

I say quietly to my mum, “On the website, they say this is a French restaurant. Although you wouldn’t have guessed it from the name.”

My mother is used to speaking to the hard of hearing.


Oh dear. The waiter looks upset.

“Madam,” he says, “This menu is 95% genuinely French. It is written in such a form so that English customers can understand it. We have a French chef. We are French. I personally have worked with Michel Roux. I have served many celebrities.”

Oh dear. This cuts no ice with me and certainly not with my mother.

“Is liver and bacon French?” she asks.

“Madam, we tried to take liver and bacon off the menu but there was such a demand for it that we had to put it on again. It is not French but it is not our choice. Some of our customers prefer British food. Can I take your order?”

“Can I have the roast beef set lunch, please.”

Refusing to order off the a la carte menu as for £30 a head I’d expect not only a good meal but enough wine to get pissed out of my head too, I order the roast lamb set lunch. After a pleasant lentil soup, thirty pieces of lamb arrive, swimming in an ocean of black gravy, accompanied by a lone unnecessary Yorkshire pudding.

“Sauce, sir?”

“Mint, please…Thank you.”

“Have some more, sir.”

“Thank you.”

The vegetables are roast potatoes, bitter yellow slices of courgette, crisp mange tout, and a creamy sickly cauliflower cheese. Basically, the sort of yucky Sunday lunch you get anywhere, but at £14.95 for three courses you can’t go wrong, can you?

The three less money-tight members of our party eat a la carte. They seem to enjoy it but it’s still far too much food for normal appetites. Fat bastards would love it here.

For dessert, I choose the lightest dish, a mango sorbet. It is refreshing but possibly does not complement the remainder of my Spitfire ale. Yes, I’m drinking beer as the wine is eighteen quid a bottle and I’m not spending that on a bottle of wine.

So almost completely sober and stuffed to the gills with too much food, I waddle home to watch the second half of the Everton v West Ham match.

It’s rubbish, we lose, and I'm certain the piece of lamb stuck between my teeth is going to cause an infection.

Bring on Christmas!


  1. Anonymous7:00 PM

    You're making the Harvester sound attractive.

    When he said he's served a lot of celebrities, you should have said "Alright. I'll have a spit-roasted Chris Evans in a Noel Edmonds Sauce".

  2. Sorry - whenever Everton win it's always against a team that I like e.g. Rovers, Hammers or Trotters.

    What annoys me is when I choose the cheap dish and a small glass of ale. Then the others go mad and we share the bill equally.

  3. Murph - The Harvester's no nonsense, as much or as little as you like and plenty of vegetables. Jamie Oliver should be promoting it. If I remember rightly they do a dish called the Combine Harvester. You've got to love them for that.

    Kaz - Rovers are the odd team out - more dog than pig. I did pay over the top at the meal but that was fair enough because I never seem to arrive at the right time to buy a round at the bar before it. I think they've sussed me out.

  4. hee hee ... Nice one Geoff - took me a minute though!

  5. "This menu is 95% genuinely French. It is written in such a form so that English customers can understand it."

    Oooh tetchy!

    The first time I went to a Harvester it was very disappointing as they didn't ask me if I'd been to a Harvester before, a question I understood was something they always said. Pah.

  6. I've always wanted to go to a Harvester, just so they could ask me if I'd been to a Harvester before, and I could day something terribly Brian Sewelly like "Do I look like the sort of person who might have been to a Harvester before?"

    Geoff - funnily enough, I had mango sorbet on Friday night as well. But I had sea bass baked in a salt crust. And Pinot Grigio.

  7. I watched the rubbish match too but with a homemade meal and a pint of Guinness in my comfy chair.

  8. Billy - They should always ask you if you've been to a Harvester before. Even if you're a regular. It's all part of the Harvester experience.

    Tim - I didn't even look at the fish part of the menu - that looks better value as vegetables are included. I think I'd have mango sorbet again although not in an Indian restaurant where if I had room I'd plump for pistachio kulfi.

    MJ - No chance of knocking over your Guinness in excitement, was there? Was that breakfast?

  9. Anonymous1:37 PM

    I remember Julian Clarey once saying "I don't really know anything about heterosexual sex, but I believe a Harvester is involved".

  10. Can I have a rant about bass seeing as Tim brought it up? Poncey fish restaurant owners are killing off wild bass stocks. Most food bass (unless you're an American, all bass is from the sea) is farmed from Greece or somewhere. Wild bass is exceedingly slow growing and it's illegal to take a fish below 12" if you're an angler. Many anglers will return them up to 15 or 20" as they're one of the best sport fish in the sea. Yet it's become such a trendy meal amongst Guardian readers that trawlers are illegally working the surf (bass love the shoreline) to pieces in places and killing juvenile fish into the bargain in search of a quick return. Much as I love it, I won't eat bass in restaurants for that reason.

  11. It WAS a little early in the day for a pint.
    *said sheepishly*
    But you can understand how I needed it.

  12. Murph - I was under the impression that the Harvester was a family restaurant. I know they serve corn on the cob, but...

    Richard - OK, that's cod and sea bass off the menu (not that I eat sea fish anyway since the exploding tuna incident). Tim's in Thailand by the way, if that makes any difference. (I was going to make a joke saying Sid Vicious could have done with a bass lesson that long but I decided it was crap).

    MJ - Anything to make it go quicker.

  13. Yes, I know Tim's out there and I believe they farm bass around Phuket. It's an old problem though over here and it's an unfortunate fall-out. They're easy to catch on the shoreline when there's beach one side and a boat with a seine net behind it the other. Wild fish will always fetch a premium and table fish will be around 12 - 15 inches, barely legal but just mature, qround 5 years old. Basically, they're killing off the breeding stock.

    Umm...sorry. Personal er...beef. Millions of people read your blog, Geoff so this is good for the fish. Yeah.

  14. I've never been to a Harverster before - now I am intrigued.

    I always assumed that they were the ultra-chavvy places that would make even a peasant like me sound like Brian Sewell.

    Now you're telling me that they serve veggies and free salad?

  15. Anonymous6:17 PM

    Harvester...isn't that the place where they serve salad from a cart?
    Why would you want to eat stuff off a cart?
    Isn't it all covered in straw?

  16. Richard - Go fish!

    Spin - You even get those little bits of soya that taste like bacon.

    Realdoc - You ask for the a la carte menu, they point you towards the salad bar.

  17. I like the Cajun chicken. And the bacon bits on blue cheese dressing. The thing that puts me off about the salad cart is the bits of other people's salads in the dressings.

  18. I feel a bit sick after reading about that little episode Geoff. (Makes mental note never to go to the Victorian Restaurant Bexleyheath).

  19. Anonymous2:19 PM

    I can tell you would not know a first class meal at a resonable price if it bit you on your Burburry cap covered empty heads. Stick to MacDonalds you cheap, moronic, unappreciative egits.

    By the way the Victoria Restaurant is a fantastic place to eat, we had our company Christmas do there and found the food, wine, surroundings and staff to be excellent.

  20. Anonymous10:39 AM

    I travel through work a LOT and eat out at restaurants across the country practically every night, through necessity, to the point it's not a treat anymore.

    The Victorian Restaurant in Bexleyheath had always been my favourite - a place for a special occasion - and when I went back with my girlfriend recently I was concerned that it wouldn't be as good as I'd remembered, having been spoilt over the last year.

    I'm pleased to say, it was every bit as good as I remembered, one of the best places I've eaten ANYWHERE, and I'm going back there again tomorrow.

    The writer of this article doesn't know what they are talking about and needs to stick to Weatherspoons, where a beer and burger meal is very good value for money if you are feeling a bit tight ;)

  21. Anonymous7:27 PM

    Stick to ordering a pizza for your trailer geoff! I hear dominos are doing buy one get one free! that should keep the family happy!

    wouldnt know a good meal if it came upto ya and twated u between the eyes!

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Bleeding hell, anyone would think he had dared to criticise Cipriani or some other top notch joint, judging by the pasting he is getting from people who are so refained and poshe, don't you know, that they can't spell twatted or Burberry.

    A shame that isn't still around - your subtle, witty potshots at poor people would have found a welcoming home there.

  24. Anonymous3:29 PM

    Oh Geoff, you're not a Yorkshireman (either born or bred) by any chance. That was a typical working-class post about an excellent eatery. I can only assume you made a wrong turn or were talking about the wrong restaurant

  25. Anonymous8:41 PM

    Our childhoods (and attitudes to eating out) are remarkably similar. Perhaps we're brothers.

    In France, we can usually feed the four of us on stuff we like to eat, plus dessert and a drink, for about €50. In the UK, everything is so bolloxed up by our class system that food and snobbery go hand in hand.

    Couple of years ago we ate at some highly-rated place in Vannes, courtesy of my wife's cousin, who has a lot more disposable than us. I spent the entire night envying the kids, who were eating the chef's idea of a burger and chips. As for the rest of us: unspeakable and unidentifiable bits of meat in fussy sauces supposedly representing some amazing fusion of world cuisine.

    No thanks.

  26. Tiggy Leggy Buck Buck Foames Legburne1:02 PM

    Oh Geoff, Geoff, GEOFF! Shame on you! A visit to the Victorian Restaurant (or just Vickies as it is referred to by those of us in the know!) should leave you satiated, humbled and at one with yourself as a human being!

    I make a point of only visiting Vickies once a year, otherwise the multi sensory experience may start to lose its power and I would take things for granted!

    Last autumn I visited with some very very very dear friends - Lord Seb Coe, Sams Cameron, the Burton/Bonham Carter clan, Sir Philip Green and darling little Stella McCartney. What can I say - it was an uproarious and unforgettable night as the feast of the gods was laid before us and we talked about the stuff of life into the early hours of the morning! The service was impeccable and the waiters were the right side of ingratiating to people who they instinctively knew were from the higher orders!

    As the French say - we don't eat to live, we live to eat! If you can't appreciate the best of food perhaps you should stay indoors and microwave frozen mince cassseroles from Bejam! You shouldn't be rubbing shoulders with the right sort of people anyway, so it would be best for everyone else in the world too!!!

  27. Catherine Earnshaw2:17 PM

    I was traveling from Thrushcross Grange recently when I was unfortunate enough to veer from the moor path in a southerly direction. After much inconvenience and several changes of stockings I was relieved to find myself at the Inn of which you speak. Asking only for a chop, a pot of punch and a bowl in which to soak my torn fingernails, I was bewildered to be offered vittles in the form of plain cake in a bowl of brown soup. When I swooned, I was informed that this "Yorkshire Pudding" should be "right up my street" and if I did not enjoy it I could return to the county of my nativity. I did. And I will forever curse my inability to navigate by the stars.

  28. Colin Hunt6:32 PM

    I attended the Victorian Restaurant recently and found that there were several queues inside.

    The Maitre D called across to me "Far Queue!".

    I stormed out.

    The end.

  29. V. Pollard6:35 PM

    I went in that Viktory Ann Plaice and it woz like well minging? I ad a berberry pie and that woz just me 'at! God bless yer Geoff.

  30. Anon - I consider myself atypically working class. Maybe I don't know myself!

    Bob - Snobbery should have no place at the table.

    Tiggy - It is no longer Bejam, it is Iceland. And they do very good finger food!

    Catherine - You were lucky you didn't run into Big Brenda at the bar. She can read people's minds and speaks her own.

    Colin - He is the master of insults.

    Vicki - It's not meant for the likes of you and me.

  31. Pete Tong1:15 PM

    I was largin' it at the Victorian Restaurant after a fashion after party with David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, Sasha, A-Trak and some Rumanian supermodels. What an unforgettable night!

    A-Trak played a surprise impromptu old school set which took us back to the heady days of the Paradise Garage! It was like being in the presence of the late and great Larry Levan! We didn't see that one coming!

    The food was excellent! David Guetta said it was the best French cuisine he'd tasted outside France and he should know - he's French!

  32. I emigrated from East London to Australia back in 1989. However, every year I make a pilgrimage back to have a fine meal at the Victorian Restaurant in Bexleyheath. Their cauliflower cheese is second to none, and I have encountered nothing but the utmost respect from the excellently trained staff. In fact, I would consider it a privilege to pay £50 for the set meal, and would urge the owners to seriously consider adjusting the price accordingly.